Nfld. & Labrador

CEO of company that recorded 2.6 million dead salmon apologizes to N.L. government

Mowi CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog and Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne met Thursday to discuss the incident that resulted in 2.6 million dead fish.

Province also unveils overhaul of aquaculture regulations

Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne says Mowi CEO Alf-Helge Aarskog has apologized for the handling of an incident that resulted in 2.6 million dead salmon. (Peter Cowan/Marine Harvest)

The CEO of Mowi has apologized to the provincial fisheries minister and promised to do better, after 2.6 million salmon were killed on Newfoundland's south coast, followed by criticism that the company should have been more transparent in disclosing information about the incident. 

"We did not live up to both your, and our own expectations," he wrote in a letter to Premier Dwight Ball and Fisheries Minister Gerry Byrne.

"For this, I personally and sincerely apologize as CEO and on behalf of Mowi ASA."

The company outlined six things it's doing to prevent other occurrences.

Premier Dwight Ball says the company was 'required to provide proactive disclosure about events. They failed to do that.' (Chris O'Neill-Yates/CBC)

It's increasing the depth of its nets so that fish can escape warm water and putting together what it says is a better plan to deal with a large number of deaths so that a cleanup can done more quickly.

Gerry Byrne led a technical briefing for reporters Friday to outline new aquaculture regulations and provide an update on his meeting Thursday with Alf-Helge Aarskog, the head of Mowi, which is the parent company of Northern Harvest Sea Farms. 

CBC requested an interview with Aarskog, and while the company initially agreed, it stopped responding to emails from CBC and hasn't made the president available.

Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne said the new aquaculture regulations are some of the most stringent in the country (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Byrne said he had no ability, nor should he, to force the company to speak to reporters.

"They recognized that they could do better, they must do better and that they shall do better," he told reporters.

Earlier this week, Premier Dwight Ball said it was Byrne who requested the meeting, and pointed the finger at Northern Harvest Sea Farms about the lack of communication about the exact number of dead fish. 

Assistance promised for workers

The millions of salmon that died represented about one year's worth of production for the company. That means plant workers in the area won't be employed to process those fish.

Byrne said he hopes the federal government helps by provided enhanced employment insurance, but the province will provide its own help.

"The provincial government in Newfoundland and Labrador will be providing assistance," Byrne said. He highlighted the province's plant worker assistance program, which has a $2.5-million budget to help plant workers by providing them with short term employment so they qualify for EI.

New regulations for all aquaculture

At the news conference Byrne also unveiled details on 32 new policies and changes to many existing ones. It required public reporting of incidents like deaths or disease.

It also forces operators to use deeper nets so fish can get deeper. Northern Harvest nets are 15 metres deep, but all companies will now have to have nets that are 20 metres deep. The nets will also have to meet international certification standards.

"We rank very much head and shoulders above, in the Canadian context on so many fronts," he said.

Byrne said the provincial government has been working on the regulations for more than two years but some were changed in recent days based on the problems at Northern Harvest.

The NDP and Progressive Conservatives say he mishandled the file. 

"If I didn't have confidence in this minister, he wouldn't be here," said Ball. 

Ball blamed Northern Harvest Sea Farms for the lack of communication about the exact number of dead fish. 

Ball defended Byrne, both during question period and in a scrum with reporters afterward. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

"[Mowi] were required to provide proactive disclosure about events. They failed to do that," Byrne told reporters, noting that after the disclosure, the province suspended 10 of the company's licences.

Byrne previously said the company's licences would not be returned until the "full facts" of the event are known.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Anthony Germain


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